#26 – Why are College Students NOT Protected from Fire in Dorm Rooms Across America?

The National Fire Protection Association published a report in August 2013 concluding that the number of reported fires in dormitories increased 18% from 3,200 in 1980 to 3,780 in 2011. These fires caused an annual average of 2 civilian deaths, 30 injuries and $9.4 million in property damage. As is the case with a lot of statistical reporting, there were probably fires that went unreported as well. The documented fires occurred in dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and barracks, all of which are supposed to be inspected and approved for occupancy by the schools and local authorities.

Annual tuition at four-year universities is very expensive. Using information collected from CollegeData, and averaging the cost of private, in-state public and out of state public colleges and universities, average annual tuition is $19,806. Multiply that by the 2012 enrollment of 17,487,475 students compiled by Statistics Brain, we’ve concluded college revenues for 2012, exclusive of other fees and such non-traditional revenue as athletic tickets and corporate sponsorship, averages out to $346.4 billion in a single year!
Surely there should be enough funds available to allow colleges and universities to provide fire protection for their students. Unfortunately, fire protection does not seem to be a high-profile selling point for educational institutions.
The most effective means of fire suppression has been and remains the installation of an automatic fire sprinkler suppression system. Property damage is 65% lower as compared to buildings without automatic extinguishing equipment. First year college students in Algebra I can see that math makes sense!
Considering the revenue colleges receive for students, it would seem that the installation of automatic sprinkler or other fire suppression measures should be required, or at a minimum highly recommended. While many new campus buildings are engineered to include such systems, college housing still consists of older buildings and both approved and unapproved off-campus housing. There is currently no national standard or regulatory control of individual school criteria that requires student housing areas to be retrofitted with sprinklers. Making matters even more inconsistent, State and local officials often do not adopt state-wide fire codes, as this example in Dallas demonstrates.
When considering college housing, whether as a student or parent, the presence of sprinklers in housing areas should certainly be part of your on-campus assessment. Colleges and universities should make sprinkler installation a top evaluation criteria when offering, building or approving any type of student housing.
Here’s some more simple math. Adding a fire sprinkler systems is relatively inexpensive. While local cost variations prevent giving an absolute figure for retrofitting a space with sprinklers, estimates range from $1.50 to $2.50 a square foot for new installation and roughly double for retrofit. Considering that most fires occur in kitchens and most deaths in sleeping areas, protecting at least those two is, at a minimum, highly reasonable. The cost might even be somewhat offset by lower insurance premiums.
If you would like more information on fire sprinkler systems, QRFS stands ready to provide you with information and cost estimates for the equipment.

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